Sorry (not sorry?) to have to say this but it ALWAYS swings back to a boring old well-balanced approach. Sometimes the more we muck with things – the more we perpetually try to fine-tune them – the messier they get.
Although eating when hungry, stopping when full and choosing wholesome food should, or at least could, be fairly simple, unfortunately adding in a bit of or too much ‘nutrition’ (or marketing) information often creates a less healthy scenario than having no information at all. Without a total picture context, evidence-based and practical viewpoint, eating advice can be questionable. Some of the misconceptions circulating about what to eat or not to eat remind me of that ‘telephone’ game where a group sits together in a circle. The first person whispers a comment into the next person’s ear and so on until the last person says the final garbled statement out loud. At that point, it sounds novel and fun. And, our brains are wired to like novelty. Perhaps that’s the reason so many wonky approaches from questionable sources float around out there? For example, take Michael Pollan’s excellent, seven famous word statement summing up healthy eating: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” It’s as if it came out of that ‘telephone’ game as “Be rude. Not too nice. Mostly rant.” or “Beetroots, get a flat gut, host of can’ts.” The many misinterpretations have led to a flood of information on what not to eat that has left many people feeling guilty if food choices are not 100% perfect at all times. I haven’t yet met the man, but I don’t think Pollan necessarily meant that. His comments are just one example of many great ideas from thought leaders out there that have possibly been misinterpreted or taken to an unbalanced extreme.
In an attempt to simplify and unscramble a number of messy nutrition messages I’ve heard over the past couple of years, here’s a reminder of 10 proven truths about healthy eating.
- Although ‘natural’ food stores have expanded their offerings significantly over the past two decades, you can still find everything you need to eat for good health, or very close to everything, in a regular grocery store. Possible exception: situations of multiple and/or very complex food allergies. If you’re looking for ultra-gourmet and 100% locally grown or sourced, this may not always be the case – although even mainstream grocery stores support many local suppliers these days. Shopping around also makes sense – at the grocery store, the Farmer’s Market, the seafood shop, the made-fresh-daily bakery…you can often even find some healthy food options at decent prices in drug stores these days. (Although we prefer a glass of water from the kitchen, it’s true that the water from the bathroom sink tap in your house comes from the same pipe system as the water in the kitchen.)
- If an ‘expert’ advises you to avoid all wheat, dairy and/or sugar (or anything else) but can’t or doesn’t tell you how or what to realistically eat instead or doesn’t refer you on to someone who can, they are not a true ‘expert’ on healthy eating. Referring others to that same person increases the number of people who feel lost and confused about what to eat.
- Healthy eating doesn’t have to be more expensive than unhealthy eating. Shopping and cooking skills play big roles here. Invest in boosting your I.K. (Intelligence in the Kitchen) to save money on food.
- The proven health benefits of eating ENOUGH of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables far outweigh risk from not choosing organic in every case. Growing what you can yourself is a healthy action if you have the garden space to do so – even one tomato plant or row of kale.
- Eating a wide variety of healthy food is associated with better nutrition and overall health than sticking to a very short list of ‘superfoods.’
- If you bake cookies or muffins at home using real food ingredients like whole wheat flour, oats, nuts, butter, eggs and even a moderate amount of sugar, in almost every case they’ll be more wholesome than commercially-made versions. Even for using, dare I say it, sugar.
- If you ‘fuel’ each day with a giant coffee or two, a couple ultra ‘clean’ energy bars, vitamin supplements and little else, you are FAR from well nourished, regardless of the source and price of the products being consumed. No supplements currently exist that replace 100% of the nourishment from whole foods.
- Most commercially available frozen pizzas – vegetarian, gluten-free or not – are still a low nutrient, low fibre, high sodium meal.
- Controlling or micro-managing one’s diet will only influence the amount and/or quality of food consumed. It won’t bring order or peace to other areas of life. Same goes for micro-managing or endless unproductive attempts to fine-tune every morsel of food eaten by kids.
- There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to healthy eating, healthy skin care, exercise or other aspects of health. There are general guiding principles but ALL must be interpreted individually based on each person’s unique situation – age, life stage, health, values, genetics, economics and more. Anyone promoting (or selling) a ‘fits all’ approach is not looking at the total picture of factors that require consideration.
Everyone has a base eating history whether influenced by good or bad examples from their childhood, economic factors, likes or dislikes, values and intuition about what foods work best for them. Trusting and honoring this is VERY important. If interested in eating healthier, start at that base. Then expand your knowledge and repertoire of food ideas from very good quality information sources you trust. An evidence-based genuine interest in true nourishment and a customized approach without an expensive product or service to sell are usually great clues of a reliable source. Assuming your family is feeling energetic and maintaining good health, don’t worry if where you shop, how you cook, which trends you follow or not, and which supplemental products you take or not are different than what others are doing. Charge on.
Watch for a future post in which I’ll share the secrets of climbing the steps to healthy eating success and freeing yourself of permanently focusing on it or needing an annual Spring cleanse. If you have a liver and kidneys, stay active and sweat, hydrate and eat quality food most of the time, you are likely pretty nicely ‘cleansed’ already.